CLEVELAND (WJW) – Staffing shortages could have an impact on summer plans as pools across Northeast Ohio struggle to find lifeguards.
Some communities are considering reducing hours or closing pools due to the lack of staff and offering new incentives to attract lifeguards.
“I’d say we’re about at 50% at this time what we’re usually at,” said Erin Norton, assistant director of operations for Metropolitan Pools.
The company operates and staffs about 50 pools at area homeowner’s associations and apartment buildings.
Norton said applications for lifeguard positions are way down, with only about 180 of 300 lifeguard positions filled just 10 days before its pools are set to open. The company is offering free lifeguard certification courses, increased pay and bonuses as it works to draw applicants who are 15 or older.
“Unfortunately, if we don’t get enough lifeguard staff, we might not be able to fill all the hours we need to at the pool, and we might look at reducing the hours or having to close the pools,” Norton said.
Cities including Mentor are also experiencing shortages.
“It has been extremely difficult to find lifeguards for the summer season,” Assistant Recreation Director Nita Justice said.
As a result, she said the city has attempted to streamline pool operations, condensed programming like swim team and canceled swim party rentals. The city plans to offer a lifeguarding class in early June in an effort to attract new guards and will offer a partial reimbursement with a work commitment.
The YMCA of Greater Cleveland said it’s seeking an additional 40 lifeguards to staff its nine pools.
“It’s challenging,” District Executive Director Chris Scheuer said. “Some of our pools, we’ve had to adjust the schedule.”
He said fewer people are also taking lifeguard certification courses through the YMCA, with about 100 people certified so far this year compared with 350 at this point in a typical year.
Scheuer points to the competitive market for entry-level workers. With wages increasing amid strong demand for workers, would-be lifeguards are turning elsewhere for work.
“In the past, lifeguarding used to be the first job in their careers, and we’re looking at how do we reengage that population,” Scheuer said. “We’re trying to make it attractive for people 15 years and older that want to work.”
Scheuer said the YMCA is offering free lifeguarding classes and memberships and considering new incentives like sign-on and referral bonuses, in addition to higher wages. It’s also partnering with the American Red Cross to recruit lifeguards.